Olympiads in the 6th century AD

I’m still transcribing the Chronicle of James of Edessa, who wrote in the mid 7th century.  He starts with the reign of Constantine, continuing the Chronicle of Eusebius.  Naturally he has a new line for each new olympiad, just as Eusebius does.

I’m typing in the table of years.  Tiberius II becomes Eastern Roman emperor; and then Maurice ascends the throne.  But the chronicle continues to mark the olympiads.  Maurice becomes emperor in the second year of the 340th olympiad, according to James.  He continues to mark olympiads right down to olympiad 352 — the 20th year of Heraclius.  The chronicle then omits them.

There is something both beautiful and sad to see this writer of the 7th century continuing to use the ancient Greek reckoning, centuries after the abolition of the olympic games.  These vanished, presumably as part of the anti-pagan legislation of Theodosius I, before 394 AD. 

How the human mind holds on to things gone past!  How we seek to ensure continuity, especially in troublesome times, and build whatever framework we can against the chaos and the ruin that must in the end engulf all our endeavours, and indeed ourselves.  A man must be very comfortable and very complacent indeed not to feel the tug of antiquity and tradition, and to treat it as nothing!  James, at least, was not such a man.  Nisi dominus frustra.

2 Responses to “Olympiads in the 6th century AD”


  1. ikokki

    One thing that is rarely noticed about the reconing by Olympiads is that it is the first system of linear timing. In places like China or Egypt or Mesopotamia the reconing was year X of king Y, which made time seem circular. There was always going to be a new 10th year of a king. While in some local systems in Greece this system was followed the national system of Olympiads, invented by Ephorus in the 4th century BC, made time linear: Year 3 would come again but it the number of the Olympiad would increase.

  2. Roger Pearse

    An interesting point, and one that I had never noticed. The system of marking time by regnal years is so utterly defective for a universal chronology that I had not noticed that it also obscured the need for one by creating this illusion of circularity. Thank you for that insight.



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